President Joe Biden restricted travel from eight African nations on Nov. 26 to slow the spread of the omicron variant. Conservative commentators have misleadingly cited a Biden tweet from last year to claim he was critical of “the same travel ban” implemented by then-President Donald Trump. But that tweet was about a Trump immigration order directed at predominantly Muslim countries.
The World Health Organization designated the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 as a variant of concern on Nov. 26.
On the same day, President Joe Biden issued a policy restricting travel from southern Africa, where scientists first identified the variant. The eight countries affected are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Biden called the move, which was intended to slow the spread of the variant to the U.S., a “precautionary measure until we have more information.” However, travel restrictions are most effective if they are implemented before a virus, or variant, has begun to spread. The omicron variant has already started to spread and has now been detected in more than a dozen countries, including the U.S.
Within a day of Biden’s announcement, conservative social media pages had taken aim at the president, but they leveled a criticism that was based on a misrepresentation of a past position Biden had taken on Trump’s immigration policies.
They called Biden a “hypocrite,” highlighting a tweet from Feb. 1, 2020. For example, the Republican Party of Portage County, Ohio, posted the tweet on Facebook with this misleading claim, “And yet he imposes the same travel ban. What a hypocrite!”
The Biden tweet from last year (below) was posted the day after then-President Donald Trump had signed a policy restricting travel from China in an effort to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. But the policy Biden was addressing had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic or public health measures.
In his tweet, Biden was objecting to an expansion of Trump’s controversial ban on certain foreign nationals from largely Muslim countries.
As a candidate, Trump had proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” That 2015 campaign promise, and the resulting policy initiatives aimed at barring Muslims from entering the country that followed, came to be known as the “Muslim ban.”
On Jan. 31, 2020, Trump had added six more countries — Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania — to the existing list of those affected by the travel restrictions, four of them in Africa. Hence, Biden’s reference to a “new ‘African Ban.’”
On the same day that Trump had signed that policy, he had also signed an unrelated measure restricting travelers from China due to the pandemic.
They were two separate and distinct policies. It’s clear which one Biden was referring to because his tweet also included a link to his full statement opposing the restrictions on those coming from Muslim majority countries. It said nothing about China or the pandemic.
This isn’t the first time that the two Trump-era policies signed on the same day have been confused. We wrote in April 2020 about a similar claim misrepresenting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opposition to the restrictions on those coming from Muslim majority countries as criticism of the pandemic-related travel restriction.
We could find no evidence in the public record at the time of Pelosi’s position on Trump’s pandemic-related restriction.
As for Biden’s position, we’ve written before about a comment he made about “xenophobia” while campaigning in Iowa on Jan. 31, 2020. At that time, he said that as the pandemic unfolds, Americans “need to have a president who they can trust what he says about it, that he is going to act rationally about it.” He added, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia – hysterical xenophobia – and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science.”
The following day, he wrote on Twitter, “We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fearmongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.”
But Biden did not reference the travel restrictions on China in his remarks, and his campaign said he wasn’t talking about that.
Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfeld, told CNN on April 3, 2020, that his “reference to xenophobia was about Trump’s long record of scapegoating others at a time when the virus was emerging from China.”
She also said that Biden supported Trump’s decision to impose travel restrictions on China.
Despite this evidence, some high-profile conservative figures still highlighted Biden’s tweet about restrictions on travelers from Muslim majority countries as though it were about pandemic-related travel restrictions. Among those who did so were Rep. Dan Crenshaw, former Arkansas governor and current Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee, commentator Glenn Beck and Trump’s former aide Dan Scavino.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
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